The Failed Mission of Fr. Stephen Hatherly

Yesterday, May 19, was the 126th anniversary of the arrival in America of Protopresbyter Stephen Hatherly, a convert priest from England. Hatherly served under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and spent several months in the US, attempting to establish an Orthodox parish in New York. Last July, I wrote an article on Hatherly’s brief American tenure, but back then, this website had far fewer readers than it does today. For that reason, I’m reprinting my original article.

From 1870 to 1883, Fr Nicholas Bjerring was pastor of a Russian Orthodox chapel in New York City. Bjerring was a convert from Roman Catholicism, and he basically operated an “embassy chapel.” He held services for Russian and Greek officials stationed in America, he ministered to the few Orthodox Christians living in New York, and he strongly discouraged inquirers.

In 1883, the Russian government informed Bjerring that they intended to close his chapel, apparently to save money. They offered Bjerring a comfortable teaching position in St Petersburg. Bjerring, upset and disheartened, turned down the offer and instead became a Presbyterian.

Word of Bjerring’s apostasy eventually reached the ears of one Fr Stephen G. Hatherly, an archpriest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hatherly was a convert himself. An Englishman, he had joined the Orthodox Church way back in 1856, and he was ordained a priest in 1871. He was based in England, but in May of 1884, he arrived in America. His plan was to band together the handfuls of Orthodox on the East Coast (mainly New York and Philadelphia) and establish a new church to replace the defunct Russian chapel.

Hatherly spent three months in America, and his mission was a resounding failure. There was simply not enough interest from America’s meager Orthodox population. At the close of his stay in the US, the New York Sun ran the following story (August 18, 1884):

S.G. Hatherly, the Greek arch priest who came to New York from Constantinople and established a chapel in St. John’s School in Varick street two months ago, conducted service yesterday for the last time, and the chapel will be closed. About a score of the Greek colony in attendance and as many curious minded spectators. Athanasius Athos, the son of a Greek priest, was reader. Father Hatherly did not deliver an address, but said briefly to the worshippers that it was because of their want of faith that the effort to establish a Greek chapel had failed.

In conversation Father Hatherly, who is an Englishman by birth, said that he wrote from Constantinople to the authorities in Russia to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York. The official reply was that no effort to establish a Greek Church chapel in New York would be undertaken after their “cruel experience” with N. Bjerring, who is now a Presbyterian. The Russian colony, Father Hatherly said, has kept away from this chapel in Varick street. Two or three Russians, he said, had said that they wanted something grander than Father Hatherly’s chapel.

“The collection to-day,” he added, “is $4.32. You can see that the chapel would not be self-supporting. However, that is not the only reason why the chapel is given up. The people do not attend as they should. I had hoped when I came on my mission of inquiry to be able to hold services alternately in New York and Philadelphia. It’s all over now, and I go to Constantinople in a few days.”

That’s an interesting article for a variety of reasons, but one in particular jumps out — the statement that Hatherly wrote to the Russian authorities “to learn whether the coast was clear for him in New York,” and the Russian reply that it indeed was.

Up to now [July 2009], I’ve felt that the Russian closure of the New York chapel was an implicit abandonment of the city, and that the Greeks who, seven years later, formed their own church, were under no obligation to contact the Russian bishop on the other side of the continent. But Hatherly’s story drives that point home even further. The Russians didn’t implicitly abandon New York; if this report is correct, they explicitly did so.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee. After I originally published it in July 2009, I contacted the Ecumenical Patriarchate to see if they still had, in their archives, the letter from the Russian Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Alas, they couldn’t find anything. It’s possible that the letter is there somewhere, and it’s also possible that something remains in St. Petersburg. Of course, a century and a quarter after the fact, it’s just as likely that we’ll never find the original document.]

4 Replies to “The Failed Mission of Fr. Stephen Hatherly”

  1. Matthew, I gotta hand it to you, your sources are astounding. If you don’t mind, I’d like to make this observation: the fact that Fr Hatherly wrote to Moscow for permission to set up a chapel in NYC indicates to me that he viewed it as Russian ecclesial territory.

  2. I just came across a work of Fr. Hatherly:
    “Office of the credence & the divine liturgy of our father among the saints, John Chrysostom Archbishop of Constantinople, Done into English by John Covel D.D. 1722, John Glen King D.D. 1772, John Mason Neale D.D. 1859, & by the anonymous translator of 1866 [John Patrick Crichton, marquis of Bute]. Ed. & annotated by Stephen G. Hatherly, Proto-Presbyter of the Oecumenical Throne of Constantinople,” whose cover;q1=Theotokos;start=1;size=100;page=root;view=image;seq=1 has the distinctive three bar Cross on it. Among other things, he prefaces it with a list of Orthodox works in English, including “A TREATISE ON BYZANTINE MUSIC. “There are upwards of fifty unabbreviated musical pieces, ancient and modern, from Greek, Russian, Turkish, and Egyptian sources,
    given and fully analysed.” Four Shillings; Bound, Six Shillings. SUPPLEMENT to the above. Containing twenty-four forms of the English National-hymn Tune ” GOD save the Queen,” projected over certain of the Byzantine Modes or Scales, both diatonic and chromatic. Two Shillings.,” and starts with corrections to his long and extremely interesting article “Greek Office Books and Their Translations” in 1892 in The Scottish review, Volume 19 By William Musham Metcalfe, Ruaraidh Erskine
    which starts out discussing biblical translation and the Authorized and Revised versions, goes on to survey the situation of the Orthodox over two centuries before his day and its literature in English, the involvement of Americans and the talks between the Anglicans and Orthodox for the past centuries etc.. He inserts a number of interesting observations from world-wide Orhtodoxy, and its immigration and reception into the Anglo-phone world:

    “As a foil to the briefer form of Dr. Neale’s, in like manner as Dr. King’s was to Dr. Covel’s, I have thought it desirable to add the well-known translation of The Divine Liturgy of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. Done into English, with some Prefatory Notes, and the Original Greek of the open parts (London: Joseph Masters), which was published anonymously in 1866. The translator preferring still to maintain his anonymity, nothing in the way of regret can be of any avail. [it is attributed to John Patrick Crichton, marquis of Bute] It was immediately seen, on its publication, that this daintily printed volume supplied a long felt want, being at once portable, complete, and masterly. Its popularity with members of the Greek Church in England was great, and increased, if that were possible, when it was found the edition was sold out, and copies were no longer procurable. It gave a logical and generally correct order of arrangement of the different parts of the Liturgy, especially of the silent prayers, which are conjoined in every case with their respective Exclamations or Eulogies in the places where the latter are always uttered aloud….these difficulties were, however, got over by the anonymous translator of 1866, who thereby gave a valuable object-lesson on Oriental Litourgic Form, in which he had but one predecessor, to whom he makes due literary acknowledgment [“I beg in duty to acknowledge the assistance I have derived from the lucid arrangement of the Liturgies in the English translation published by Mr. Hatherly of Liverpool.” to which Fr. Hatherly footnotes “This version was approved and sanctioned for English use by the Most Holy Governing Synod of the Church of All the Russias.”]….I have included in the present reprint the Preface, Dedication, and two introductory Notes contained in the edition of 1866. These give, in brief, information scattered over many larger works, and have lightened my labours not a little by saving the
    trouble of re-search and re-statement. One remark only, contained in the ninth paragraph
    of the Preface, I would wish to see modified. I have served at the Altars of Egyptian, Greek,
    Roumanian, Russian, and Syrian churches, but never experienced any inconvenience, or found the rites to vary other than in-considerably. What variation existed, here or there, it would take a professional ritualist to discover, excepting in two particulars:—1. In the Holy Cave at Bethlehem, and in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, there is a daily commemoration of the Nativity and Resurrection respectively, most beautiful and appropriate uader the circumstances ; and 2. In the Russian Church the older manner of CoSimunicating the Deacon has been retained. This latter, at variance with the present Greek use, is, I think, ” the head and front of our offending:” but it need be no longer an offence to English students, as the
    present work contains intact both the older and the newer methods.”

    Which would seem to indicate that Fr. Hatherly was Ecumenical in the Orthodox Catholic sense of the word, even involving himself in the issues of the revival of a Western Orthodox Church:

    “Another figure prominent in Orthodox circles in Great Britain was Stephen Georgeson Hatherly (1827-1905). An Anglican layman, he was received into Orthodoxy in London in 1856 by (re-) Baptism. In 1871 he was ordained to the priesthood at Constantinople by Metropolitan Basil of Anchialos. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-82) is said to have denounced his missionary zeal to the Constantinopolitan Patriarch who prohibited him “to proselytize a single member of the Anglican Church.” (91) Despite the prohibition, however, in a letter from Patriarch Joachim II to Metropolitan Basil written in 1874, the Patriarch showed his pleasure at Hatherly’s work and bestowed his blessing upon him. (92) The following year Hatherly was honored by elevation to the dignity of Archpriest. Thus, despite prohibitions to the contrary, Hatherly, whose very raison d’être was to proselytize Anglicans, was honored and blessed by the highest prelates of the Church…
    Somewhat of a controversy arose over Richardson’s reception and request for ordination. Fr. E.I. Popoff of London wrote to the Russian Synod in St. Petersburg saying that the Greek priest in London insisted that Richardson had to be (re-) Baptized. Hatherly also wrote to the Russian Synod in 1862, and said the Synod ought to require Baptism by immersion of all converts who were candidates for the priesthood. Hatherly, at the same time a lay member of the Greek church in Liverpool, and himself having been (re-) Baptized by the Greeks, considered Richardson’s reception by the Sacrament of Chrismation insufficient to ordain him. Metropolitan Philaret Drozdov of Moscow, however, disagreed with this view and stated that it was perfectly canonical to ordain Richardson without (re-) Baptism. The controversy caused Alexis Petrovich Akhmatov (1818-70), then Chief-Procurator of the Synod (1862-64), to write to Philaret that the differences between the Greek and Russian Churches in the matter of the reception of converts was serious and ought to be resolved. Such differences might be a cause for scandal and could shake any prospective convert’s faith in the Church….
    Hatherly, who worked for similar goals as Overbeck but using different means, was not a collaborator of Overbeck and is said to have had a controversy with him. Hatherly was not interested in Western Orthodoxy and simply desired Eastern services in English with a native clergy. It had not been possible to uncover any definite evidence of contention between Hatherly and Overbeck, and Hatherly’s name never once figured in any of the literature issued by Overbeck available to this writer. Only once, at the very beginning of his work, did Overbeck allude to a “few single voices” Britain who advocated privately that converts simply join the Eastern Church, adopting her Church formularies in an English translation. He conceded that this would be the simplest way of establishing an Orthodox Church in England but insisted it would not be the right or most profitable way….
    Once the Archbishop of Canterbury protested to the Phanar against Fr. Hatherly’s activities, there is no reason to doubt that the Anglican authorities would exert pressure on the Greeks because of Overbeck’s scheme, especially since the latter was potentially much more threatening to them. The English were not backward about making their opinions known in the Middle East, and British policies played a larger role in the destinies of the dying Ottoman Empire. Overbeck stated that there was a period when “Anglican influence was paramount (not to say, omnipotent) at Constantinople.” (101) In 1840 the Sultan deposed Patriarch Gregory VI upon directions of the English ambassador Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. As for the protest from the Synod of the Church of Greece (independent of Constantinople since 1833) which, it is asserted, halted Overbeck’s scheme at the Phanar – this, too, could very well have been British-inspired. It has been said that when one collates the “pronouncements issued by Greek ecclesiastics with the political events and pressures which paralleled their appearance, one soon discovers an obvious relation between their interpretation of Orthodox Canon law and faith and the political tensions to which they were subjected.” (102) In the days Overbeck was seeking approval of his plan at Constantinople, Greece was almost completely under the thumb of England. King George I received his Greek throne in 1863 by nomination and approval of the British Government, just as had King Otho before him. Greece also was heavily in debt to Great Britain which took advantage of the situation by interfering in the internal affairs of that country. It is, therefore, not inconceivable that Queen Victoria, the “legal head of the protestant religion established by law in England,” upon the advice of one of her political appointees, e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury, exerted pressure upon the Greek Synod through the Greek Government to block Overbeck’s scheme already approved at Constantinople…
    J.A. Douglas, translator of Archbishop Chrysostom Papadopoulos’ book on Anglican Orders, in a long four-page footnote devoted to Overbeck’s scheme which exhibited something of the intercommunionist animosity described above, interestingly enough did not even mention the Greeks in connection with the failure of the scheme. In his view Overbeck’s failure was bound to Russian foreign policy. Great Britain had been the chief obstacle in the fulfillment of Russian aspirations in the Balkans and the Levant. If matters had stood differently Constantinople would be within grasp of the Russian Empire. The men most active in the Oxford Movement in the 1870’s and 1880’s had yearnings for union with the Orthodox Church. Such a frame of mind made them ripe for propaganda about Turkish oppression of Christian subjects. Under Gladstone’s leadership the High Churchmen waged a campaign which in the 1870’s brought a drastic change in English foreign policy. The Russian Government was, therefore, quite interested in the ecclesiastical affairs of Britain. Few Russian officials were willing to risk Anglo-Catholic sympathy for an improbably and perhaps only visionary conversion of any large number of Anglicans to Orthodoxy. It was the Tsarist statesman, therefore, who saw to it that the setting up of a Western Orthodox Church in England was thwarted.
    “N.O.”, probably the inverted initials of Olga Novikoff, also blamed Russia for the failure of Overbeck’s scheme, but not because of any deliberate planning by Russian policy makers. The reason was simple inertia. Just as in state politics the Russians were unprepared for questions of the day to come, so in religious policies the Russians did not know how to make the best use of opportunities falling into their laps. All of Overbeck’s energies were wasted and not put to use in that most brilliant period of his activity, the first two-thirds of the 1870’s. The viewpoint, thus, is the opposite of that expressed by Douglas. The Russians allowed Overbeck’s scheme to go by default, to fail because of the lack of a definite policy. As far as the Greeks were concerned, they simply were not enough interested in the affair to try it out….”

    It would seem that this gives the context of Fr. Hatherly’s mission, it’s failure, and his relationship to the Holy Synods in Constantinople and St. Petersburg

  3. It seems Fr. Hatherly was quite the troublemaker in his day (I apologize for lenght):


    Sir,—Permit me, in behalf the Anglo-Continental Society, to send to you for publication the following most important document which has just issued from the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It speaks for itself, and needs no explanation to those acquainted with the circumstances of the case. We may be allowed to express our deep thankfulness that what threatened to become a dangerous schism and a running sore has been overruled so as to bring about the first authoritative recognition of the Anglican Church, as a sister Church, that has ever proceeded, in so formal a manner, from the see of Constantinople, and a distinct repudiation of the arrogant and| uncatholic policy of “I am, and there is none beside me,” which Rome persistently and consistently acts on towards us. The Old Catholic Movement in the West and this acceptance in the East of our ideas with respect to the nature and constituent parts of the Catholic Church may well give courage to those who look for intercommunion among Christians on the basis of Scriptural truths and primitive consent.

    I believe that we very much owe this happy
    termination of the Hatherly’ affair to the wisdom, moderation, and zeal of our excellent representative in Constantinople—the Rev, C. G. Curtis, to whom I am indebted for the following documents.

    (1 Mr. Hatherly, it will be remembered, is an Englishman who went to Constantinople to be ordained to the chaplaincy of a few Greeks at Wolverhampton, and whose Greek pedilections had led him on to desire, like Dr. Overbeck, the formation of a distinct “Western Orthodox Church,” to which he would get proselytes, from the Anglican Church as from other bodies.)

    I.—Letter of the Grand Protosyncelus of the Patriarch of Constantinople to Stephen Hatherly :—

    “Dorolheus Euelpides, Grand Protosyncelus of the Patriarchal (Ecumenical throne in Constantinople, to Stephen Hatherly, appointed Priest over the Orthodox Church in Wolverhampton, England, peace from God and brotherly greeting in Christ.

    “Among many other difficulties with which the Orthodox Church is daily contending is reckoned, your dear reverence well knows, that proselytism among some of her children which is being always carried on by missionaries of the West.

    “If these Missionaries had been really impelled by a true zeal for the Lord, they would have had before them a wide field for their energy in Asia, and especially in Africa and other parts, where ‘ Christ is not yet preached,’ and not among the pious sons of the Orthodox Church, whose fathers were the first to receive the Gospel of Christ from the witnesses of the Word, and then to cultivate and impart it to all other nations among which are numbered even those from which at the present day these Missionaries present themselves self-authorized teachers, pursuing the work of proselytism among the faithful, forgetting the resolve of the Apostle of the Gentiles who ‘strove to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest he should build upon another man’s foundation, but, as it is written, to whom He was not spoken of they shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand’ (Rom. xv. 20). Through such conduct of theirs they revive in themselves the work of those concerning whom the Apostle, writing to the Philippians (i. 15) said, (and the Orthodox Church is justified in repeating his words)—’ Some indeed preach Christ of envy and strife, and some of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.’

    “The mother Church, beholding the disastrous consequences of such proselytism with grief, laments, like another Rachel, the destruction of her children, and therefore she regards it as opposed to the Gospel, and not as promoting the glory of the Lord’s Name—nor peace and love, but as sowing discord and hatred between Christian Churches.

    “And for this cause, following the noble aim of the Apostle, she has always been averse from that practice, never hunting for proselytes among the members of another Church, and she appeals to the truth of history on her behalf to show that she has always faithfully maintained this principle.

    Of this principle your reverence is requested and ecclesiastically enjoined to become the official ppponent in the presence of the English brethren, instructing as becomes you the little Orthodox flock over which you have been called and appointed by the Church to be priest, but never, no, not in mind, assuming to proselytise any one single member of the Anglican Church, which has signally exhibited of late towards our Orthodox Church so many proofs of sisterly love and sympathy. Our fervent desire is not that we should receive into the bosom of our Church five or possibly ten members of tlie Anglican or any other Church, but that, differences being removed through care and previous labour undertaken in the spirit of meekness, the unity of the Churches may follow, so that with one mouth and with one heart glorifying in the same temples the great Chief Shepherd, our Lord and God, we may in common impart the light of the knowledge of God to nations that are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and that united praise of all that are on the earth may be borne up to the only-begotten Son and Word of God, Who is at the right hand of the Throne of the Majesty. For this does the Church entreat night and day, continually praying ‘for the union of all.’

    “Under this banner of our Church, into the ranks of whose ministry you have been called, may your Reverence fight the good fight in Christian Great Britain, proving yourself an example and a teacher of a cause, not of dismemberment and hatred, but of union and love. Let us who have been called to be ministers of the Church be foremost in practising this, conducting ourselves according to it in all our actions and after the Apostle’s example, praying ‘that the love of believers may abound yet more.and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that they may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousnsss which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God’ (Phil. i. 9—12).

    “Assuring your Reverence of the prayers and blessings of our most pious Father and Patriarch, by whose command I have written the above, I offer the brotherly greeting in Christ.—Your reverence’s brother in Christ, “+ The Grand Protosyncelus, D. Euelpides.

    “The Patriarchate, Feb. 27, 1873.”

    II.—Article in the official Neologus of Constantinople, 29th April, 1873, commenting on the above letter :—

    “A bright contrast to the proselytising spirit of some ministers of the Christian religion, and to their constant eagerness to bring over to their own dogma other believers in the Gospel, is presented by the conduct of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which seeks and desires nothing but union in Christ, and that by brotherly and peaceful approximation, and not by ensnaring consciences through any means whatever, as is the practice of others.

    “Our Church has very lately given a clear proof that this is her rule of conduct by proclaiming it officially in a letter sent by the Grand Protosyncelus, and by command of his Holiness the Oecumenical Patriarch,

    to the Rev. Stephen Hatherly, an Orthodox Priest in Great Britain, for his guidance as to his intercourse with the English community. In this letter the Grand Protosyncelus, interpreting the mind of the Church, first denounces that proselytism which is carried on by some in the East among the Christians, and which, instead of the peace and love taught by the Gospel, rather sows the seed of strife and division; and so proves that the Orthodox Church, justly hating such consequences, has always discountenanced inclination to proselytism. Accordingly, he enjoins the Rev. priest, Mr. Stephen Hatherly, as her minister, to content himself with instructing and feeding the small Orthodox flock of which he has been appointed spiritual father, but to abstain from even the idea of proselytising a few members of the Anglican Church with which the great Church continues in good and sisterly relations. This representation of the Orthodox Church made by the Grand Protosyncelus the (Ecumenical Patriarch, bears witness to her feelings towards all other Christian Churches and to the lofty principle by which she is guided in her manner of dealing with Christians of other confessions, while she keeps in view rather the more general and truer union of the Churches for which, too, she never ceases to pray, than partial and often scandalous conversions.”

    The language of the official organ of the Church of Constantinople is the more remarkable because two years ago, in reply to Mr. Curtis’s protest against Mr. Hatherly’s ordination, it admitted letters justifying Orthodox proselytism in England on the ground of the heterodoxy of the English Church—(see Report of the Anglo-Continental Society, 1871). This position is now formally abandoned.

    Frederick Meyrick.
    The Colonial Church chronicle, and missionary journal. July 1847-Dec. 1874

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